Production Team: X
Interview Date: December 13, 1989
Camera Rolls: 1139-1140
Sound Rolls: 164
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Albert Raby, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 13, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
Can you tell me how the local movement ?
Well, the, the movement was very concerned at that point about the upcoming election that was that would have been brought with the, the Republicans would eventually nominate Goldwater. We were, got the news at the rally itself, that they had found three civil rights workers dead in Mississippi. I'm sorry. Cut.
Tell me what was going on in your mind and in the movement at the time of this rally.
Well, we in Chicago, who were attending the rally were very excited number one by, by Martin King coming to Chicago for one of the largest rallies held in the United States. And two, by the summer project that was going on in Mississippi and were, were saddened that day by the news that we received while on the platform that the bodies of the three civil rights workers had been discovered in, in a Mississippi grave. So that it was both an exhilarating day and a sad day, but a challenging day in which the Mississippi project probably was the major concern. Locally, putting on the rally had been the big activity of that period.
Can you give me some examples, tell me about the local movement and essentially about Mayor Daley's control in the movement or his attempting to control the movement?
Well, Mayor Daley had an enormous amount of influence in the city of Chicago and therefore influenced our ability to influence the community that we were trying to gather together to protest. Ah, we, we had run independent candidates in earlier races. Sammy Raynor had run in the sixth ward. We had run some independent congressional candidates, not successfully. But we had on the one hand made education a major issue throughout the city and throughout the Black community in particular. During that period of time the Black kids were on double shifts, were in overclod--crowded classrooms and were being housed in mobile classes which we coined as the "Willis Wagons" of Chicago, so that it was a, on the one hand it was a very, very tight control but politically by the mayor. But we were able to make some issues that, of concern to the Black community very, very broad based in their acknowledgement that they were the major issues and the, and a significant number of people concerned about them.
What was your response when the school board ?
Our response was first we celebrated. Ah, we were obviously very pleased that, that he had resigned. We believed that that was a prerequisite to resolving any of the conflict that existed around the educational system so our initial response was that we were very pleased. We were very angry when the board rescinded that action, rescinded the, the policy that had provoked his resignation which was essentially to have some open transfers, very small number in the city. And it probably re-energized and caused us to be the more determined to carry on the protest.
When, moving forward, managed to get federal funds was how, and--
When Daley, the federal money reestablished after we had submitted a complaint and had cut it off was enormously disappointing. We had thought, when it had originally been cut off, that our, our argument, was so clear and, so, and indicated that the board was flagrantly in violation of the federal requirements and were absolutely astounded that Daley was able to evidently call Johnson directly and have Keppel called on the carpet and those resources re--reestablished.
What state was the local movement at when you invited King and the SCLC to come to Chicago?
Well, we had, spent all of 19, the summer of 1965 in marches against, the rehiring of Benjamin C. Willis, who had, been given a new contract, and had mobilized an enormous number of people over the summer. Ah, but the fact is that we had not been able to get any movement on the part of the school board to remove him, and so that I would say that the movement was at a low ebb when we invited Dr. King to come to Chicago. Uh it--his, promise to come was re-energizing to the movement. Ah, it created, brought back the coalition in the city, and I think reactivated us all. I think the, eh, the, and the response of the board of education was to announce that Willis would resign effective some time the following year, and that they were commencing a search for a new superintendent immediately. That the, the hope there was that they would undercut Dr. King's coming to Chicago and remove a major issue off the agenda and therefore he would be less viable.
I'm going to ask you the same question, I just want a slightly different answer in terms of a little more-- Can you give me a more human sense of that, it sounds like an unbelievably tiring summer, what happened?
When we had asked, Martin to come to Chicago, we had gone through a summer which had seen as many as eleven or 1200 people arrested in a su--in a single demonstration. And marches diminish from 25,000, a high of 25,000, to as few as nine and a dog. And the Chicago Daily News, in fact, carried a picture announcing that the summer was over, because we had called off our last march. Ah, Dr. King's--
What stage was the movement at when you invited Dr. King?
We had spent the entire summer marching from Buckingham Fountain to various locations in the city. Those marches had gone from 25,000 to nine, diminished to nine, when the Chicago Daily News announced that the summer was over as a result of our calling off the marches. So that we had dissipated I think, most of our energy at that point. And when Martin agreed to come to Chicago it re-energized the entire movement and allowed us to come back, ah, as a coalition, to form around him, and to start again.
What were you hoping that his presence could do, that a march could do ?
Well, I think it was, to regener--regenerate the energy and the enthusiasm and the will to go on as well as to, in, in, in, invite and, and get additional people to join us and to broaden the whole base of issues that we were dealing with.
In February, Dr. King moved into Chicago, in February, Mayor Daley announced his own program to end slums. What was he doing? What was that all about?
I think he was trying to end-run, Martin. Ah, trying to cut away an issue from him. Ah, trying to, to say to the general public that, that there were, that we didn't need Martin Luther King to deal with, the problems of slums in the city of Chicago, but that he would deal with them.
Was Chicago listening?
Oh, I think that, people who wanted to believe whatever Mayor Daley had to say listened. I think that those of us who were in the movement knew that that was not going to happen. I mean, this was the same mayor that said in 1963, of the most segregated city in the United States, that there were no ghettos. So that, it wasn't hard for us to arrive at the fact that he probably was not going to do anything to end slums, and, when in fact he had watched them grow.
Is there a story that you remember that best tells about the first several months of experimentation and programs ? Stories you remember that highlight the--
Well, one of the, the interesting things to me at least was getting to know Martin and dealing with him as a person. Martin was notorious for being late. I am notorious for being on time. So that we, as, a co-chairman, I clearly had a hesitancy and being critical of Martin. But after being here for about six weeks and coming to a meeting three hours late, I said, and having the whole staff of 50 people waiting for him, I said to Martin that I thought it was ridiculous for him to be continuously late. And his response to me was to tell me that he was just a poor country boy, he was still getting familiar with the city, he had a hard time finding his way around. And six or eight weeks later, I raised the same question with him. And then he went into a sermon preaching about his six or seven jobs, and so I finally gave up and realized that I was just going to have to endure his personal limitations in that respect.
When SCLC came into this city, they saw Mayor Daley as an ally, did you think that was--
I don't think that, uh--
I don't think that they saw Daley as an ally. One interpretation of what they saw is that he was an enormously powerful political leader, and that if they were in fact able to persuade him or, by force of power, force him to take a position, he had the power to keep his word. Ah, and that, so that I think that was the perspective. Not as an ally, but as a person who had a sufficient amount of power and that if he sat down, made a decision, he'd be able to implement that decision politically.
And, as someone from Chicago, who'd been working with, actually against him, several years, did you think that would happen?
I, it was, it was an argument that seemed reasonable. Ah, it wasn't clear to me, again, I, I want to underline the, the relative lack of sophistication of myself in particular and maybe the movement in general in understanding the political dynamics that were going on and where the leverages were and on down the line. So that I think that we may very well have, have bought it, retrospectively, it was clear that it was much more complicated than the formulas that we had laid out.
How did the ?
It was not difficult, it was our wish-list of, of concerns for the city, for the ghettos. Ah, and so that that was not a difficult process at all, I think.
How did you feel about Mayor Daley's response or lack of response?
Well that, didn't, di--surprise us.
Mayor Daley re--responded by, pretty much, by ignoring and arguing that, in fact, he was prepared to do all these things, many of them were already being done, there was no need for Martin, and that Martin should go someplace where he was really needed.
And how did you feel about that response?
Well, clearly, that response was non-responsive. It had no relationship to reality.
Were you angry?
Not, not angry because his response didn't surprise me. It was clear that we would have to carry this battle on in the streets and in the neighborhoods themselves. Once you remember that, that wish-list included ending slum land--landlordism, and which required organizing tenant unions, treating welfare recipients humanely, which brought us to support the welfare rights activities that were going on in Chicago, and just a whole variety of activities which were prerequisites to ending those conditions.
OK, can we stop for a second?
One form of that, lack of sophistication was the fact that for example, Virgil Martin, who was head of Carson Pirie Scott and was the president of State Street Chamber of Commerce Association, who had in, in previous years been the leader in identifying and hiring and encouraging others to hire minorities in the downtown business arena, became the person who called for the retention of superintendent Willis when he had resigned, and caused him to come back. That dichotomy between, on the one hand, this decent human being who was taking leadership in one arena that benefited the progress of race relations in Chicago and the opportunities for Blacks, on the other hand was stifling, leading the effort that, that stifled reform in education, which was of equal importance. Ah, that dichotomy just was not clear. If I were, today, confronted with the same problem, I would clearly be able to anticipate it and understand it.
Moving ahead to the rioting that broke out, this story, you were in a car driving with Dr. King, one afternoon, is that right, and going to ?
Can you tell me about that night, what it was like?
When the riots broke out in, on the west side of the city, and Dr. King and I and Andy drove around trying to persuade particularly young Black people who were the, the, those who were most involved in the action on the streets, if you will. We tried to encourage them to, to go into places where we could talk to them collectively. Where that wasn't possible, we tried to talk to them individually and encourage them to get off the streets. Ah, that they were, one, not helping the problem. We understood their frustration, we were trying to address it and find avenues for that energy and frustration and anger to be challenged in a constructive way. And that, that the most dangerous situation was that the police would overreact and they would in fact be physically hurt, or damaged, or end up in jail**.
When Mayor Daley indirectly blamed the riot on King and the movement, ?
Well, it, it's clear that riots were going on in a number of cities across the United States. Ah, and King had little or nothing to do, and you should remember that his sole purpose for coming North was as a result of the frustration of acting as a kind of fireman in Northern cities trying to dissuade Blacks to, from rioting, to channeling that en--energy in a constructive way. Ah, we were just a little bit behind schedule at that point, but the whole purpose was to, to try to prevent riots and try to do something constructive.
Were the riots a threat to the movement?
Oh, I think it, without a question it was a threat to the movement--
The riots were a threat to, to the movement and to everything we were trying to do. the only way we had been successful, in those goals which we had, in fact, achieved, whether it was voting riots or public accommodations, was garnering the support and understanding of the broader society. Ah, there is no way in which a riot promotes that understanding. Ah, we believed that the ultimate alternative was non-violent social involvement. And that, in fact, we could achieve those goals that way, and that a riot was counterproductive.
Mayor Daley's accusation that, Martin Luther King was the cause of--
Can we stop for a second?
Mayor, Mayor Daley's accusation that, the riots were started by Martin Luther King was absolutely ridiculous. Ah, first, the, the reason Martin decided to go to Northern cities was because he had been acting as a fireman all over the country, where riots had, started, and felt that, that the only way that that could be corrected is to involve himself in trying to re-channel the energies of the Black community into constructive, non-violent, social change. And so, that was his primary purpose, that's the business we were about, and we worked very hard at trying to achieve that.
Was the movement threatened by the riots?
Yes, very much so. Ah, they, yes, the movement, the movement, in fact, was threatened by riots. It, all of our successes in previous years had been by garnering the support of the larger society around the justice of our causes. And riots just are not events that cause people to have sympathy for or seek understanding for the reasons around which one is protesting. So it, it was very detrimental to it.
Did the riots reinforce the stereotypes of Black people being violent?
The riots didn't, didn't, I think, influence people's attitudes towards Blacks as being violent. Ah, what they did was, I think, make people feel that the problems were insoluble, one, two, that, that, that that was not a solution and that leadership that couldn't prevent riots or couldn't influence the community, maybe had no relevance or credence anyplace else.
Do you want to tell me about the Marquette march, first the decision to march to White neighborhoods? What were you expecting?
Well that, the decision to march, march through Marquette Park was one of several programs that we had. Mayor Daley had said that there was no ghettos in, in the city and that the racial composition of the city was as a result people's desires, that you could live really anywhere you wanted to, but people just chose to live where they were. So that our decision to go real estate agencies in White communities and ask to look at property which is available created an environment in which the White community reacted negatively and threatened us. And the situation, or the attitude of the movement was that we were not going to be frightened out of these neighborhoods, and so we had to, continually march in and out of those neighborhoods and 'til people were convinced that we were not going to be threatened, and that we had to be dealt with, and that the city had to admit that there was in fact segregation and initiate programs to reme--that, remedy that.
Can you tell me about Sunday, you went to the first Marquette block, and cars were overturned, and you went, can you walk me through that night, maybe beginning with the point where you crossed the line into the White neighborhoods?
We drove that Sunday to Marquette Park, parked our cars, and started marching, around the community. Came back to find, a number of the cars burning and overturned. Ah, and we were asked by the police if we wanted to get into paddy wagons and be driven out for our own safety. We refused that and marched from Marquette Park back into, to our point of departure, which was about 20, 25 blocks. Between Marquette Park and the Black community was about seven--17, 18 blocks, and we were attacked constantly with young Whites throwing bricks at the marchers as we marched down 71st Street. Later on television, there were cameras of large numbers of large sized police vans with very large contingent of police who did not who were not deployed for our protection and, in fact, simply sat and waited until everything was over. When that showed on TV, on national TV, that embarrassed the city and I think put the mayor on the spot. And from that point on, we were given the protection necessary to, for our marches.
You sound calm now, what was it like walking through a neighborhood and being met with such ?
Well, this, it was scary, ah, to march through those neighborhoods and have people yelling epithets[SIC], throwing bricks, the police in, in the early stages of the marches not protecting you was a scary experience, it was an angry experience. And then have the mayor, to say that the marchers were causing the problem, rather than the failure of the administration, either in policy on issues of access to housing or in police protection was ridiculous and just reinforced what we already knew: that the mayor of the city of Chicago was giving the leadership to maintain racial segregation in Chicago.
What would your response be to a White homeowner who says, "I've lived in Chicago 20 years, I've seen neighborhoods go downhill as soon as Black families-- I've paid a lot for my house and I'm not going to lose it?"
I would say to them that they are victims of real estate speculation and panic-peddling which was also allowed by the city. That is that it was very clear that real estate agencies were steering Blacks into a block that was changing without regard to the stability of the neighborhood, sometimes without regard to whether or not the person would be able to economically maintain the house that was being sold to them. So that, and then, the remaining houses being sold, first being purchased, for less than their value, and then being sold for much, for a much higher, inflated price to Blacks. And so both were victims of that real estate manipulation, and I have some sympathy with that manipulation and that victimization of Whites as well as the victimization that was occurring with Blacks.
a tragedy when everyone was getting down on your opposition and then realizing, who--
Ah, our first response to being attacked, uh--
Our first response to being attacked by bricks was to sit down. Ah, my army training had told me that you just should not have a non-moving target, and, immediately realizing that, we got up and started marching that it was much more difficult to hit a moving target than it is to hitting a sitting target.
OK, moving on to the summit. The summit, first the meetings happened, and you're still marching and Daley issued an injunction. That seems like such dirty pool, because of how much more power he had. Can you tell me what your response was to Daley's injunction?
The injunction came as a result of the, the police department's claim that it could not protect multiple marches. Ah, we clearly were angered by the, the seeking of an injunction. We thought it diminished our, our negotiating power. Ah, but it was something we had to learn to live with. Ah, and we did that even though we were still in negotiations.
Can you briefly tell me what the summit negotiating process was like?
Well the, the, the initial process of negotiations, around the summit was to submit a list of demands. Ah, the response of the city was to agree to those demands. Ah, but we didn't feel that there was a, a process which guaranteed that, in fact, they would live up to them. And one of the major components of it was a real estate board which could not, in fact, give a clear answer as to what its position was. So that we recommended that we set up committees during a, a ten-week lapse between the two meetings and work on those details. Ah, and we did that and submitted them to the entire summit an agreement that included a great deal of detail as to how each of the components was to carry out their responsibilities.
So at the time, at the time the agreement was signed, what was your stand toward it and what had been won and what had been given up?
Well, I was very skeptical after we had signed the agreement whether the city would in fact follow through with its responsibilities. The, what movements have is the capacity to bring issues to the table. They don't always have the institutional capacity to follow, to force a responsible follow-through on them. And in fact, had not the Leadership Council on Metropolitan Open Communities been established as an, with an institutional capacity to carry on the implementation of that summit agreement, it would have, in fact, been meaningless.
What was the response to the claim it was a sell-out?
There were clearly mixed emotions about--
--there were clearly mixed emotions about what we had achieved. And, I think it went more to the issue of whether, in fact, the city would keep its part of the bargain or not. And, that suspicion was shared by those of us who participated as well as those who were outside it.
What about the split in the movement that was beginning to come, to manifest itself in terms of Robert Lucas and CORE and people saying the marching shouldn't have stopped and the beginning of the Black Power faction within the movement, can you talk about that?
Well, I had had the experience in 1965 of marching until the troops were exhausted and totally dissipated. One of the considerations that one has to consider in, in negotiations is where is the point where you've maximized what you can get. And to take something that hopefully is meaningful, so that you don't totally dissipate your energies, totally disappoint people in terms of their expectations, we reached the point in which we thought that we had achieved not everything we wanted, but everything we could achieve, and there were those who disagreed with that, but we had the burden of decision, we made the best one we could, as honestly as we could, with all the suspicions that were shared by those of us who were criticizing us**.
Did you have, because you were marching and marching and marching, the march ?
Well, the march that was called to, to go to Cicero was one in which I did not participate, I thought probably would not achieve very much, and don't think subsequently that it did. I don't think anybody claims that it did. It was more an emo--emotional response to a frustration than a goal that had an achievable end.
Could you see at that time, in August-September of '66, that the movement itself, the non-violent movement was becoming fractured?
Yes, the movement, the movement was becoming fraction--not, fractional not only in the city of Chicago but across the country, and some of the same things that affected it nationally were evident on a local level.
The dispute around the whole issue of Black Power and how one defined that. The dispute around militancy and where were the borders. The, the efficacy of non-violence as a strategy, and whether that was achieving anything. The emphasis on economic issues, all of those questions were in a great deal of debate at the time and fractured the movement.
Stop for a second.
If you could talk about the sophistication--
Another example of the lack of sophistication, and I think, understanding, of the movement of the political power of the Daley machine, even penetrating into Black organizations was exemplified right after Emmett Till was killed in Mississippi. Willoughby Abner was then president of the local NAACP, former UAW regional director who's led protest marches around the Emmett Till murder. The political machine was frightened of that organizational effort and decided that the direction that Willoughby Abner was leading the NAACP was one that would not be beneficial to them, and so they had Dawson organize an effort to take over the NAACP, and, literally, he called out every precinct captain, had them take out membership in the NAACP, checked them off as they walked through the meeting that was going to vote on the presidency, and voted Willoughby Abner out of office. And there, and there, from there on, took over the control of the NAACP locally here in Chicago. That's one example of the willingness and ability of that political organization to penetrate into the social organizations and fabric of Civil Rights organizations in Chicago.
I was asking you a question about the Kerner Report. When the report came out, in terms of Chicago and what you had seen in the years previous to that, can you talk about how you felt the Kerner Report, did they address what you had been addressing, were you agreeing with them?
I think the movement thought that the Kerner Report described accurately what the current situation was and what the future held for us if, in fact, those problems were not addressed. Divided into two communities, separate and unequal is, in fact, was, felt then, what existed and what was, in fact, worsening at the time.
Was there anything--
So, coming out of the summit, what were the tasks that lay ahead?
Clearly we, in the '60s, broke down some of the caste barriers that existed, and even the summit achieved some of that. What was clear that was a challenge that lay before us was that of the economic disparity that existed then and was clearly deepening in the Black community. The Kerner Report referred to that as two separate communities, unequal and that that would be aggravated unless we addressed ourselves to those problems. I think that was an accurate projection of that period.
I'm going to ask you the same question and just put it in terms of Chicago. In terms of Chicago, at this period of time, what lay ahead?
The, the challenge that lay before the movement was breaking down the economic disparity within the city. Still, trying to end slums, trying to, help underpaid workers, organize into unions so they could, better their job relationship, and a whole variety of economic issues that lay before us in the city that were clearly worsening at the moment that we were dealing with it.
And what are the Kerner Commission that everyday in Chicago?
The Kerner Commission reflected that analysis, that is, that unless we were prepared as a society to address the problems in major cities like Chicago, we would find a more divided community with more economic disparities, with worse education, and we would someday, reap that harvest.